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Drug Court: An excellent investment

Published August 31. 2013 09:00AM


Our tax dollars are an investment that we hope will yield dividends by making our area a better place to live. Unfortunately, this is not happening for the institution that eats up the largest amount of our Carbon County tax dollars - our Carbon County Correctional Facility located in Nesquehoning.

Unless you know someone who works there, who has spent time as an inmate or has a friend or relative there, or who volunteers there, you may know little about the CCF.

For nearly three years I have been a volunteer teacher for the women inmates at the CCF. Each week I hear not only about their frustrations and loneliness and their struggles with drugs and alcohol, but also about their hopes and dreams - which become difficult to sustain in their prison environment.

The CCF is Carbon County's largest expense - $65 a day per inmate, $23,725 a year per inmate. On average, for 200 inmates our cost is $4,700,000 a year. Are we getting a good value?

According to the Recidivism Report 2013 from the PA Department of Corrections, the rearrest rate at CCF is the second highest in the state, topped only by Philadelphia. Former inmates are returning to our prison at an alarming rate. Many of the crimes committed by new and returning inmates are drug and alcohol related. Yet, other than those offered by a few volunteers, the CCF offers no rehabilitation programs.

Even more alarming, the CCF failed its state inspection. One reason is that it does not have a state required full time treatment counselor. If this need is not addressed, our prison will receive other citations that may result in a consent decree which means that our inmates will go to another correctional facility at Carbon County's expense.

The CCF has no opportunities for education or training. No GED or job preparation classes are offered. It is a prison, not a correctional facility, since very limited chances for correction or rehabilitation take place there. To add to the problem, CCF is very overcrowded. There is no indoor gym because it has been turned into housing for male inmates. All the women inmates are housed in a dormitory area with room for 28 females. If that number is exceeded, the others are housed in the medical area. When this is full they are transferred to other county prisons.

The overcrowded conditions could also result in a consent decree from the state. In essence, we are investing in a facility that is broken and will remain so if business as usual continues.

The Carbon County Correctional Facility Research Committee was formed by a few volunteers interested in helping CCF to reduce its rate of return to prison and its overcrowded conditions in addition to helping reduce long term prison costs to Carbon County taxpayers. In August 2012 we received permission from the Prison Board to gather information through research and interviews, share such findings with the Prison Board and provide information to the public.

On May 15, 2013 the Prison Board was presented with our report containing strategies to address these CCF problems and an extensive resource guide that included local, state, and national grant opportunities and funding sources.

Our top recommendation was to institute a Drug Court in Carbon County to reduce the high rate of recidivism, the overcrowded conditions in the CCF, and the exorbitant cost to taxpayers.

A Drug Court is designed to treat those who have committed nonviolent, drug related crimes. Its judge serves as the leader of an interdisciplinary team of professionals who work together to hold offenders accountable and give them the tools they need to change their lives and remain drug free.

Drug Court programs typically last from 12 to 18 months until the offenders satisfy treatment and supervision conditions, pay applicable fees and fines, complete community service or make restitution to victims. Rather than spending time in prison, offenders are closely monitored according to their individual treatment plans. They undergo random weekly D & A testing and attend regular status hearings in court, during which the judge reviews their progress in treatment, and if violations occur may impose a range of consequences.

Drug Courts have been successful throughout our country for the last twenty years, and their results have been researched more than any other criminal justice programs combined.

According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, Drug Courts work better than jail or prison and better than probation and treatment alone.

Drug Courts significantly reduce drug use and crime and are more cost effective in the long run than any other proven criminal justice strategy. For example, nearby Luzerne County has had Drug Courts since 2006 and has saved $4.42 million in prison costs since then. Drug Courts cost them $12 per day versus $94 per day to house an inmate.

A Drug Court would be an excellent investment for Carbon County. Over time it would yield a large return for Carbon County taxpayers by reducing drug related crimes, saving tax dollars, and most importantly, improving the quality of life for those among us who are most vulnerable and often forgotten.

If you believe that Drug Courts would provide a cost effective solution to Carbon County's drug and criminal problems, please contact President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II, Carbon County Courthouse, 4 Broadway, Jim Thorpe PA 18229-0131.

You can make a difference!

Leta Thompson, Ph.D.

Carbon County

Correctional Facility Chairperson

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